Posted by: Moses | June 17, 2008

An Interview with Remorse

Church division is heart-wrenching to me. Today I came face to face with a divided church for the first time in my life. I saw nothing so blatant as a church split, or so asininely accepted as denominational disunity, but the gangrenous rot of backbiting divisiveness, pitting parties against pastor.

As part of our internship, one of our goals for the summer is to interview representatives from seven different urban ministries. Our first appointment came this morning and after an overly grueling bike-ride to the church, we sped off to Cedargrove Church in North-Eastern Philadelphia. We arrived, wandered about for a bit and finally found the office wedged between school and sanctuary. We walked in and were warmly greeted by “Pastor Bob.” Ian had warned us that he might be a little shy, so we came with several prodding questions ready to coax him out of his shell. I don’t know who put espresso in his decaff, but he was anything but shy today. After one question he was off and running about everything we could have asked for.

He described how he had come to Philadelphia, how he had taken the church despite reservations concerning its constitution and congregational polity, how he was now embroiled in a struggle between people who had professed willingness to follow and then entrenched themselves in stagnancy, unwilling to humble themselves and be led. Struggles were over the traditional bastions, music, polity, upkeep etc. Nothing major, nothing biblically controversial at all, and yet divisive. He proceeded to describe several instances where people refused to be led, refused to heed the word, and refused to do anything but follow their own selfish whims. From the side of the story I witnessed today, they wanted to be exonerated from feeling like their church was stagnate because of them and their apostasy, and yet they wanted to be coddled and have someone else shoulder that responsibility while allowing them to live peaceful, unexamined lives of blissful self-deception, paving their own unknowing path to an unrepentant Hell. They wanted to feel like they were following, like they were actually obeying the Bible, and yet live for their flesh. They, with itching ears sought for a teacher who would teach them what they wanted to hear and lead them where they wanted to go, and the Lord saw fit to give them a pastor who would actually care for their souls and for the Kingdom of God more than his own popularity.

I was struck with two things: the stark unbiblical nature of congregational polity, and how blessed I am to have been placed in a church of humble, plural, servant-leadership. We in democratic America automatically assume that the majority opinion is right. Why shouldn’t we run our churches the same we run our country? We are the most powerful, successful country ever, are we not? Perhaps, such reasoning should be subordinated to the Word of God, and our patriotic snobbery should be tempered by historic reality. America has been greatly blessed by God, and in democracy’s multitude of counselors there is great wisdom and stability. However, God has not designed his church to operate in such a way. Perhaps Plato’s fears of democratic corruption are most poignantly realized, not in Washington’s stagnation, but in the halls of our churches. Visionaries and true guardians are bitten by their own sheep and many times driven from self-righteous pastures because the sheep, don’t like to march up steep hills to seek greener pastures. Democracy has its place. That place is not in the handling of the word of God, nor in the leadership of a local church.

The leadership of a local church is to be entrusted to “faithful men” with specific qualifications that Paul explicitly laid out for both Titus and Timothy. Unless every single male in a church has such qualifications, then they really should have no say in guarding, directing or teaching the church. The biblical example is that elders should seek out, train, and empower other men to lead and shepherd the flock of God. Elders are not elected, but appointed by God and recognized by his church, particularly the currently presiding elders. Such federal polity, where the congregation humbly yields its autonomy to a counsel of elders has become increasingly unpopular. As individualism becomes idolized by our society, God forbid that anyone should actually direct our spiritual lives. God forbid that we should actually consider the way of life that our elders live and imitate their faith! Rather, consider that God commands. We must be directed; we must be led; we must imitate, or we will perish like lonely sheep in deserted wastelands. We need the church that God designed, not the church that we dreamed-up.

How blessed we are if God has placed us into a healthy church. Recently several evangelical pastors have published books or pamphlets encouraging Americans to pursue Godly leadership within a “healthy local church.” Mark Dever gives “nine marks” of such a church and Joshua Harris provides ten. How fortunate I am to sit at the feet of a godly counsel of elders, who humbly submit themselves to the word and to each other under a principle of unanimitiy.  Such a counsel of elders delegates responsibility to humble deacons, ready and willing to put feat to their decsions and serve the body of Christ. A godly counsel elders delegates to a cadré of deacons who serve a  body that willingly follows their leadership through rough patches, trusting a sovereign God to ensure their safety. To be a joy to our leaders! What a glorious thought, to submit joyfully and without obstinancy in order that “they might serve with joy” and not with consternation which is of no use to us! May God humble my heart to both relish my church, and to pray for the unity of His assembly. May the Lord spark a revolution of unification within local churches, drawing people to his word and convicting them of the sins of divisiveness and rebellion. May we be a church without spot, or blemish, or any such thing, to the praise of His glorious grace.

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Responses

  1. I find myself not realizing how blessed I am to be involved in several healthy churchs. I do think though that the key is not soley polity but the humble submission of both the leaders to one another as well as the congregation to the leaders. I have seen instances where good church polity (in theory) didn’t function in this humble manner and it caused problems. Good church polity is useful and provides a prime opportunity for growth but humility is what really makes a healthy church.

  2. I agree. That’s a huge part of biblical polity. Biblical polity is more than just a structure; that’s only the beginning. I love you honey, thank you for pointing out such an integral part to a healthy local church.


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